Dutch Grammar The family and the article

Holland and Nederland

Family life in Holland is as important as in the UK. Incidentally, do not speak of 'Holland' when you refer to 'Nederland', the country as a whole. Formally, 'Holland' refers to the provinces 'Noord-Holland' and 'Zuid-Holland' in the western part of the country. In some provinces you should not say that they belong to Holland. This is particularly sensitive in the province Friesland, where the people speak their own language, Frisian - but are also fluent in Dutch; 'De Friezen spreken hun eigen taal, het Fries'- maar spreken ook vloeiend Nederlands'.

Familie and gezin

Now the family, 'familie' (with the emphasis on 'mi') in proper Dutch. Dutch and English are surprisingly similar here: father = 'vader', mother = 'moeder', son = 'zoon', daughter = 'dochter', brother = 'broer', short for 'broeder', sister = 'zus', 'zusje'. This is the basic unit of the family, for which the Dutch have a separate word: 'gezin'. When talking to each other the members, 'gezinsleden', would use the first name, 'de voornaam' for the children, 'de kinderen', and 'papa' and 'mama' for the parents, 'de ouders'. Nowadays older children may also use their parents' first names. The family at large includes grandfather = 'grootvader', but everyone says 'opa', grandmother = 'grootmoeder', 'oma', uncle = 'oom', aunt = 'tante', nephew = 'neef', niece = 'nicht', son-in-law = 'schoonzoon', daughter-in-law = 'schoondochter' (schoon means beautiful or clean!), brother-in-law = 'zwager', sister-in-law = schoonzus(ter).


Note that the Dutch language has two definitive articles instead of only one in English: 'de', equivalent to 'the', and 'het', similar to 'it'. So it is 'de familie' and 'het gezin'. Be also aware of the subtle differences in the use of the article. 'how do you say this in Dutch?' = 'hoe zeg je dit in het Nederlands?; 'in winter the whole family goes on ski holidays' = 'in de winter gaat de hele familie op skivakantie'. On the other hand the article may also be absent in the Dutch: 'our daughter plays the piano' = 'onze dochter speelt piano'; 'his son is a GP' = 'his son is huisarts'. There is one indefinitive article, 'een'.
The birth of a child, 'de geboorte van een kind', is announced on a special card, 'geboortekaartje', or in a newspaper, 'krant'. The gender of the baby is solemnly proclaimed in the delivery room: 'it is a boy', 'it is a girl', 'het is een jongen', 'het is een meisje'.

The diminutive ending

The diminutive ending in Dutch, '-je', is very popular and widely used. The small boy, 'de kleine jongen', becomes 'het jongetje' and the girl 'het meisje', which is always the diminutive form. All words on -je are 'het-woorden'. However, many 'normal' words can also be 'het-woord'; two examples: the parliament = 'het parlement'; the house = 'het huis' (while a little house = 'een huisje');